Wheelchair tennis is one of the only sports where disabled players are able to compete against able-bodied players on a fair and equal basis. It is fast becoming popular amongst disabled people as it enables them to compete and to socialise with their able-bodied friends.
From the early 1980’s a handful of paraplegic tennis players started playing socially and at National Games level. Some players managed to get to play on the Open Wheelchair Tennis Circuit internationally, but it was only in 2003 when Wheelchair Tennis South Africa (WTSA) was launched as the controlling body, that wheelchair tennis in South Africa could start to develop the sport to a competitive level.
Through the ITF Silver Fund initiative – set up by the ITF to assist developing countries to develop wheelchair tennis - John Noakes, ITF Coach and Sonja Peters, player representative with WTSA held development clinics for athletes, coaches and officials throughout South Africa. South Africa was granted wild cards to send two players to the Athens Paralympics in 2004, and has managed to send both Open and Junior teams to Open Tournaments in Europe and the World Team Cup since that time. Wheelchair tennis has grown from strength to strength, thanks to a generous three-year sponsorship from ACSA and the commitment of the committee of WTSA. From the Silver Fund initiative the grass-roots development plan is up and running with 30 development tennis wheelchairs already in circulation, across the country. National and International development tournaments are being hosted in South Africa and the goal is to have South African athletes qualifying for the Paralympic Games in Beijing in 2008. A South African team will be participating at the World Team Cup later this year.
Wheelchair tennis follows the same rules as able-bodied tennis except the wheelchair tennis player may have two bounces of the ball. The first bounce must land within the court area and the second bounce may land outside the court area. The player must hit the ball before it bounces a third time.
In order to be eligible to compete in ITF sanctioned tournaments, a player must be diagnosed with a permanent mobility related disability. These players are divided into two classes, the open division is for players with normal upper limb and hand function and the quad class is for players with affected hand function. The sport is played by all ages.
Racquet: An experienced disabled tennis player will use a standard tennis racquet that will be chosen according to their style of play. A novice wheelchair tennis player may also choose a grip size slightly smaller to allow them to propel while holding the racquet, however the use of a smaller grip is not encouraged for long term playing as it leads to tennis elbow. While learning to play the sport it is useful to use a racquet with an extra light head to take it easier to swing the racquet from a seated position.
The tennis wheelchair needs to be a lightweight sports chair. Tennis is a game of thousands of adjustments, small turns and short bursts of speed, so the chair must be tuned to accomplish these skills and demands. It needs to be easily manoeuvrable and fast. It should allow the player to sit in a position, which encourages good balance, as this provides the stability required when wanting to hit a shot with force.
The tennis player tends to sit fairly deep in the wheelchair; this gives improved stability and balance as well as a greater pushing range on the wheels.
Their feet are tucked well underneath their body, with the chair as short as possible; this gives reduced resistance to fast turning.
The wheels have between 16 and 22 degrees of camber, which makes the chair more stable when turning and also allows the chair to turn easily. Tennis Wheelchair Suppliers:
Medop, import the Sunrise / Quickie, Kuschall and Invacare/Top End ranges of tennis chairs.
Since the wheelchair athlete tends to be slower on court than an able-bodied athlete, and with the two-bounce rule, there is a slightly different strategy that is required for wheelchair players. When setting up for a shot, the wheelchair player needs to learn to read the game and the movement of the ball. Since their manoeuvring is slow, their positioning on court is very important. They are usually taught to position themselves deep behind the baseline. A forward movement towards the ball is far quicker than having to turn or to reverse.
The player is taught how to best position their wheelchair for each shot and wheelchair mobility is crucial to the play, as footwork would be in ‘running’ tennis. In addition, the player is shown how to propel and manoeuvre their wheelchair with the racquet in their hand to push the chair; players learn to hold the racquet grip in their fingers, with their thumb on the push rim. The player then uses the resistance of their thumb against the push rim to push the chair. This skill needs to be practiced. Technically, it is not sound for a player to place the racquet on their lap after each shot in order to push the wheelchair.
It is recommended that wheelchair players are strapped to their wheelchairs with a 45-degree pelvic strap. This gives the player improved balance and stability, thus allowing greater manoeuvrability. Feet, knees and hips are normally strapped too.
Benefits of tennis:
For more information please contact:Chairperson Wheelchair Tennis SA –
Fanie Niehaus, a quadriplegic tennis player, with wrist strapping to hold the racquet.Adrian Hubbard, a 2004 paralympian, preparing for the World Cup in Brasilia